October 24

Renditions of “Jackson” and Its Fire

Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber wrote the song “Jackson” in 1963. But, Billy Edd Wheeler recorded it first.  Its popularity came from two 1967 releases: the first, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s pop hit single. It climbed up to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The second was Johnny Cash and June Carter’s country hit single. This reached #2 on the Billboard Country Singles chart. This version has become more appreciated by non-country audiences recently because of Cash’s continued popularity plus its use in the film “The Help” in 2011.

Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s Pop Cover

The story behind this is a married couple who discovered that the “fire” died out from their relationship. The song communicates both partners longing to travel to Jackson. Here, they look forward to being welcomed as someone better suited to the city’s lively nightlife than the other.

Less to our knowledge, actress Gaby Rodgers is also a co-author of “Jackson”. Leiber used his then-wife’s name as a pseudonym in writing the song with Wheeler. Knowing that its 1963 recording was by Wheeler, he gave details about its evolution and Leiber’s input.

“Jackson” came to me when I read the script for Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (I was too broke to see the play on Broadway)…When I played it for Jerry [Leiber], he said ‘Your first verses suck,’ or words to that effect. ‘Throw them away and start the song with your last verse, “We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.”’ When I protested to Jerry that I couldn’t start the song with the climax, he said, ‘Oh, yes you can.’ So I rewrote the song and thanks to Jerry’s editing and help, it worked. I recorded the song on my first Kapp Records album, with Joan Sommer, an old friend from Berea, Kentucky, singing the woman’s part. Johnny Cash learned the song from that album, A New Bag of Songs, produced by Jerry and Mike.

Johnny Cash and June Carter’s Country Version

Much speculation regarding which “Jackson” song it really is about. Wheeler, however, clarified the issue, “Actually, I didn’t have a specific Jackson in mind. I just liked the sharp consonant sound, as opposed to soft-sounding words like Nashville.” This did not stop it. One attribution narrowed down to Jackson, Tennessee. Another quoted Charlie Daniels’ lines, “I ain’t talking ’bout Jackson, Mississipi. I’m talking ’bout Jackson, Tennessee”. The last is Johnny Cash’s, “Well, I was gonna take her down to see Carl Perkins in Jackson.”

Jackson, oh, Jackson! What fire have you created!


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